How Do Experts Take Stock Photographs That Sell?

Shay Meinecke 16-12-2015

Shooting stock photos that can actually sell is a dream for many aspiring photographers, as many photographers often get paid little to nothing for their work.


Learning a few tips and industry insights can help you take photos that sell. But don’t take my word for it, let’s hear from a professional.

Above All, Practice

One of the first things you’ll hear from most professionals (if not all) is that practice pays. While you might not get paid to go out and practice taking pictures, your hard work and countless hours learning, shooting, and experimenting will help you learn what it takes to get the best picture. Ultimately, if you learn the trade, you will also learn what it takes to get paid.

Marco Lachmann-Anke, one of the top photographers on Pixabay – a site that features videos and images, said in an interview with MakeUseOf that the first steps to shooting pictures is “listening to your intuition,” taking photos of what you find interesting, and leaving your camera on automatic, which can help you “take better pictures 90% of the time.”

He explained that if you find those objects you’re photographing interesting, so will someone else, which will motivate you to take even more pictures. Marco Lachmann-Anke

Taking Great Photos

Lachmann-Anke, who also uploads excellent photos to, explained further that a lot more goes into taking photographs that sell. You also have to know what people want and know the basics of photography 7 Key Photography Tips for Absolute Beginners These photography tips will help you take better photos, whether you're a beginner or have some practice already. Read More . Understanding your camera 8 Tips You Should Know Before Buying Your Next Digital Camera There's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all camera. Buying a digital camera is a big deal, so we've made it much easier to understand the kinds of cameras out there. Read More is also a good idea.


People in India on a farm

Stand Out From the Pack

As an experienced photographer knows, there are basic rules to learning how to take a great photo. By bending the rules, and doing so in a knowledgable and skilled fashion, you can stand out from other photographers and get your pictures sold.

Emotion and the Rule of Thirds

One of the first rules you’ll learn as a photographer 7 Key Photography Tips for Absolute Beginners These photography tips will help you take better photos, whether you're a beginner or have some practice already. Read More is the Rule of Thirds.

Lachmann-Anke explained that the Rule of Thirds is best applied when taking pictures of a person’s eyes, “which is the most focal point of a person,” by aligning the eyes horizontally and then affixing the eyes “slightly to the left or right of center.” The whole of the person should then be aligned vertically on the plane, which, in turn, creates tension and natural emotion.


He explained that it is better to create “emotions” and “situations” with your photos than it is to take bland and lifeless pictures. And while many of the aforementioned do sell, it is those images with emotion and situation that stand out from the rest.

Honor Guard in Russia

He explained further that the Rule of Thirds is often also applied to pictures of buildings, plants, and other objects, and can help create similar tension and emotion.

While everyone has their own style, adhering to the Rule of Thirds can help you create photos that sell.


Shooting with Light on Your Back

One rule that you’ll first learn about lights, is that you should not shoot into the light, and instead shoot with the light on your back, so that your object is illuminated. However, and as many experienced photographers know, shooting into the light can create dramatic looking pictures.

back light example

The Active Space Rule

The Active Space Rule suggests that you should leave space in the photo for the subject to move into. The supposed movement adds, you guessed it, tension and a dramatic effect.


However, breaking this rule is also a great idea. To do so, you can photograph your subject moving out of the image, rather than moving into the image.

The first image below, which breaks the Active Space Rule, shows the planes moving out of the picture, and the second, which is following the rule, shows the planes entering the space. Both are great photos and good examples of breaking and following the rules.

Creating Blur

It might sound like a bad tip, but creating blurred effects with your pictures can be another way to add tension to a photo.

Taking pictures of movement at slow shutter speeds is a good way to create a blurry, but interesting photo. Also, be sure to maintain a small point of reference on the subject that you’re shooting, so that a portion of the photo is sharp.

Man waiting for a train

Focusing Your Shot

Normally when you shoot a picture, you want to focus on your subject and leave the background as a secondary feature. This is good practice for any photographer.

However, focusing on your secondary subject can also create an excellent photo. To do so, you’ll want to manually focus your camera on your subject (keep it sharp) and use a wide aperture (opening through which light travels) to create a layered effect.

butterfly in focus


There are many ways to create an out-of-focus picture, this is just one way.  You can even create an entirely out-of-focus picture, which can also be interesting.

Get It Right the First Time

With the advent of Photoshop and other powerful image editors 10 Easy-to-Use Photo Editing Programs for Newbie Photographers If Adobe Lightroom seems too complex for you, check out these easy-to-use photo editing programs for beginners. Read More , it’s easy to think that you can take a picture and edit it later to get your desired effect. Well, the truth is, it is much better to get your desired effect the first time, before your picture goes to the editor.

While it’s true that some effects require an editor (and some photos can be greatly enhanced), a lot of what you take should be taken right the first time.

bus in Myanmar

How to Earn Money

Most of what you have learned above means nothing if you don’t learn how to sell your photos. In order to do so, you’ll have to spend “80% of your time in front of the computer and 20% in the field,” as it was explained to me by internationally recognized photojournalist, Jerry Nelson, whose work has appeared in Huffington Post, CNN, USA Today, and others.

He explained that it is good to send a minimum of 100 pitches a week to various outlets, and that “if you don’t pitch, you won’t open any doors. The more you pitch, the more the numbers will work for you.” It’s all a number game, as I understood it.

An excellent way to pitch your photos to magazine, news, and other online media companies is by messaging the editors or finding a page that supports pitches. There are many websites that take photos, and editors are always looking for unique photos.

Also, if you want to work as a photojournalist (which is a great way to get your photos noticed, and better learn the trade), you can keep your eye open for photo related positions on LinkedIn, Reddit’s job subreddit, JournalismJobs, and other job boards.

In addition, you can also upload your pictures to various third party sites like iStockPhoto, Dreamstimeand other great websites The Top 8 Websites to Sell Your Stock Pictures You can make some money with photography by creating and selling stock photos. Considering how expensive cameras, lenses, and accessories can be, it's a great way to offset those costs. Read More . Create your own website and sell from there, and keep an eye out for various contests.

The choice of how to sell your photos and make money The 14 Most Profitable Places to Sell Your Photos Online Here are the best places to sell photos online when you've taken photos you think people would be willing to pay for. Read More is up to you.

Best of Luck!

By knowing the basic rules, knowing how to break the rules, and, as Marco Lachmann-Anke says, “listening to your intuition,” you too can shoot photos that actually sell.

Best of luck selling your photos! Tell us in the comments below what industry insights have worked for you.

Photos: Honor Guard by WikiImages via PixabayIndian Women by Unsplash via PixabayHuman Skyline by LoggaWiggle via Pixabay, Butterfly by ghwtog via Pixabay, Bus in Myanmar by Bachmann-Anke via Pixabay

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  1. Koren Schmedith
    August 20, 2017 at 6:02 am

    What an amazing article it is. Thanks for some amazing tips. For me, the photos which are taken exceptionally and having a good quality can be sold at any cost. No matter the setting of the camera is in auto mode or manual.

  2. Stephen
    December 19, 2015 at 10:20 pm

    putting your camera in auto is LAZY. Learn the equipment and make the shot what you want, not what the camera thinks is best. You are the artist. The camera is a tool. Do not leave any interpretive decision to the camera.

    Also - Mr. "leave the camera in auto" - has an out of focus head shot. coincidence? karma? skill level? laziness? you decide.

    • Shay Meinecke
      December 22, 2015 at 2:49 pm

      I think it's a great first-step into taking nice photos. If you dive into the mechanics of photography before taking a few great shots, you're most likely going to get overwhelmed. And while everyone has a different approach, leaving your camera on automatic can help you to later learn about the mechanics of things. Anyways, that has been my approach. I like to take a picture, learn what I can do to take that same picture better, and then apply what I learned to take an even better picture, if possible. It's a very systematic approach but it works for me, and it all starts with leaving the camera on automatic.

      • Brandi
        August 13, 2018 at 5:56 pm

        I think leaving it in auto mode is great advice for begginers. As we take a few pics using rule of thirds an compare, then using each step one at a time and mastering as we go it gives a sense of control. As we start to see the difference an learn what is working for us and why is it working we start building confidence. Id say learning how to take a pic without the help of ant special setting/mode would be smart. Then after that start using xamera tricks. It will make you a better photograper then all the smart asses in these comments. ?

    • Luke
      April 9, 2018 at 10:21 pm

      Totally agree. Leaving your camera on Auto is the worst thing that you can do. As you won't achieve the shots you have in mind. Learn every function on the camera and in the long run you will be much happier with what you shoot.

  3. Saikat Basu
    December 18, 2015 at 9:19 am

    Wonderful article. One of the places I gravitate to, just to stare and ogle for now, is the Your Shot Photo community on National Geographic. For instance, right now I am following the black and white section and trying to understand how light and contrast play with each other.

    • Shay Meinecke
      December 22, 2015 at 2:51 pm

      I visited Your Shot awhile ago but haven’t stayed up-to-date with what they’re doing now. Have you taken any black and white photos that you’d care to share?